A memorial exhibition of the work of Frances Strain Biesel, Exhibitions Director of The Renaissance Society from 1941 - December 1962.
Text by Harold Hayden from the exhibition catalog:
Francis Strain Biesel, Director of Exhibitions for the Renaissance Society from 1941 to 1962, was an artist’s artist, a sensitive gauge of American art greatly loved by those whose business is art, creative leader in the communications of exhibition, loyal friend and supporter of artists. She enjoyed the artist’s life.
Chicago was her home: born here November 11, 1898, studied art here, lived, worked and painted here. With George Bellows and Randall Davey in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and with John Sloan in Santa Fe and Nw York, she learned her trade. In 1928 there was a memorable painting trip in Europe with her husband Fred Biesel, painter son of a painter, and the Dalstroms—Frances Foy and Gustaf.
Member of the Chicago Society of Artists from 1921 when she graduated from the Art Institute; active avant gardist with the No-Jury Society in the twenties’ violent American response to new forms in art; exhibiting in the thirties, with the 10 Artists group; an active member of the Renaissance Society from 1932, Francis took charge of exhibitions in 1941 and became increasingly a mainstay of the Society.
Her painting decreased as exhibitions absorbed energy, yet new work appeared regularly in shows and block print calendars of the Chicago Society of Artists. In late years, as in earlier, there were important one-man exhibitions, at the Cliff Dwellers in Chicago, Park Forest, and Downers Grove. She was painting at the last. An artist’s artist, Frances could discuss for an hour the plastic qualities, color, and technique of a painting she had seen and then discover that she had not noticed the subject, but had only seen the painting.
A gauge of American art. Through acquaintance with leading figures and possession of a large specialized library, the memory of an elephant, and a wicked delight in undoing the overdone, Frances took the measure of art in her time, sanely, wisely, with devotion.
Greatly loved. All over America are men and women who would do aything for Frances; she touched hearts as few persons do because she was so generous herself.
Creator of exhibitions. In the hundred-plus exhibitions originated for the Renaissance Society, Frances explored and created at her best under stress. Her tendency was to be ahead of the times, as with “Eleven American Pioneers of the Twentieth Century” in 1955, years before general interest revived in Baylison, Davies, Glacken, Hartly, Henri, Luks, Maurer, Meyer, Prendergast, and Sloan. The Renaissance Society exhibitions are her monument, its reputation largely her doing.
Friend and advocate of artists. Art was her life and what she could do through art for others she did. “Contemporary Art for Young Collectors,” annually since 1947, is as much a gift to artists as to the public. Whether working in artists’ organizations or representing artists’ interests in committee, Frances was conscious of artists, preserving and fostering.
She enjoyed the artist’s life and expressed this in her paintings of the world she knew. She wrote in 1933, “I believe in painting as end in itself, that is, that the work should contain a world of its own to be enjoyed for its own sake and not as a decoration, an embellishment or a reproduction of something else…. It is necessary for me to have a definite image form which to work; and although I believe any subject in the world is paintable, I prefer that which gives me a sense of intimate and personal contact. I try to concern myself more with what the subject means to me than with its appearance.”
And also: “A sympathetic observer should be able to discover more about the artist by looking at his work than the artist could ever tell him in words.”
The Renaissance Society is grateful to Joseph Randall Shapiro and Martyl Langsdorf who arranged this exhibition. It includes a portrait of Francis Strain Biesel by Frances Foy painted in 1932.